Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Great Marathon Training Debate


Today's Workout: 5 min warm up, 8 hills (walk in between), 5 min cool down


I will preface this post with saying I have only run one marathon. I have run a few halves, and I plan to run many more full and half marathons. My brother has run a handful of marathons, my high school and college teammates have also dabbled in the distance. However, when I am looking for training plan guidance, I always look to my dad. He ran in college, and professionally afterwards. I have mentioned his running story before, here. As a 2:19 marathoner, I think his opinion is worth a lot.

I suport his firm belief that you do not need to run 20+ miles before actually racing the marathon distance.

I know this statement for many of you will result in viewing me lacking validity as a runner, but hear me out.

While a lot of plans you can find online will have you going close to the full marathon distance or further before the actual race - I STRONGLY advise against this. The only benefit to running that far before the marathon is for the mental reassurance that you can. However, your body is literally not meant to run this far, which is why it is such an accomplishment to run a full marathon. After a run at that distance you will be very sore, and your muscles will be drained. Unless you plan on taking the rest of the week off, you will then be training on dead legs that will not ever fully get the chance to recover by the time of the race. However, taking a whole week off from running will negate all those miles your ran.

The longest I would go before the marathon is 18 miles (15 miles preferably). Determine what  your goal time is for the marathon and however long it takes you to do the run (18 or 15 miles), go on the bike or elliptical for the remaining time and do some interval work. This will show you that you can continue aerobic activity for the required length of time, build your cardio endurance, while giving your legs a break from the pounding on the pavement.

I know not going above 20 may freak you out, but the only people I know that have run that distance before a marathon while staying healthy and were able to finish the race around the time they wanted were college teammates that were used to 70-80 miles/week routines throughout college. Even still, some accomplished runners have a hard time maintaining those distances and staying healthy. I for one know from experience that I cannot do more than 65 miles/week continuously without getting injured. So, if I want to do increased cardio work it has to be on the bike or elliptical. I guarantee you will be better off (mentally and physically) being able to run 18 miles at a strong pace a few times (in addition to other low impact cardio) than running 26 miles slowly once before the race.

This is what my ideal marathon training plan looks like:

It also surprises me how focused everyone gets on going over 20 miles before a marathon while completely neglecting any weight training regime. 26 miles is a long way for your muscles to carry your body and even if your heart is in shape for it, your muscles need to hold up too. You want to do higher reps (like 20-25) with lower weights that will give you a burn and build endurance without bulk.

While some friends take this advice, others have gone a different way and (in most cases) regretted it later. I only bring up this topic because I am finally getting some backing from valued opinions: Runners World, Active, and Competitor.
Like I have mentioned before, I am not a registered trainer, this is just my outlook on marathon prep.

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